Reconsidering the Ruger Mini-14

I owned a Ruger Mini-14 when in college. Briefly. I paid a friend $300 for a gently used stainless steel model with a walnut stock and flash suppressor. The gun was heaven. And that was the problem. I couldn’t shoot just one bullet at a time. It begged to be fired frequently and fast. I couldn’t help emptying the [paltry] five-round magazine in as many seconds. It was an addiction I couldn’t afford on a student’s salary. The least expensive ammo I could find at the time was $0.40 a round and I quickly spent as much to feed the beast as the rifle cost to begin with. Less than three months later I sold the gun for $280. Now I want it back.

The Mini-14 has long been thought to be a poor man’s AR-15, costing at times as little as half the price of a comparable American Rifle. But the Ruger suffered from a reputation as being comparatively crude, dated, and inaccurate. So why on earth would I want one?

Because it isn’t an AR. Whereas the AR-15 and all of its many variants look mass produced and are stylistically cold as death, the Mini-14 – even with a synthetic stock – cuts a classic figure, even historic. It is a scaled down M-14 optimized by designers Jim Sullivan (father of the M-16) and Bill Ruger for the .223 Remington cartridge. Furthermore, the Mini-14 has long been praised for its tank-like durability and real-world practicality.

Perhaps this is why producers chose to put one in the hands of silver-haired silver screen himbo George Clooney in his latest flick, The American, in which he plays an assassin in search of true love and absolution. Or maybe it was a paid product placement coup. Either way, it is a step up from the A-Team.

Today, Mini-14 owners need not hang their heads in shame over accuracy concerns. In 2005, Ruger retooled its Mini-14 manufacturing facility to produce an updated design featuring numerous small alterations that in sum equals much greater precision from the shooter’s bench, returning groupings smaller than 2” with a standard 18.5” barrel and off the shelf ammo at 100 yards, rather than the 5” groupings typical of previous iterations.

Nevertheless, the Mini-14 will never be an AR-15 — for better and worse. Automatic reload is powered by a fixed-piston gas system that will always create a little more jiggle from the [inconsiderable] .223 Remington / 5.56x45mm NATO kick than the direct gas impingement system of the AR-15. At the same time, the breech of the Mini-14 isn’t constantly being gummed-up and roasted by escaping hot combustion gasses that create reliability and early wear problems. Which would you rather live with?

Mini-14s aren’t as cheap as they used to be; street prices for most new Min-14 models range between $650 and $800. That is still less than a basic AR, but it isn’t the bargain it was 22 years ago when I made my first foray into Ruger ownership.

For now I am left fantasizing about shooting at coyotes like a Texas governor with a Stainless Steel Mini-14 Tactical with a polycarbonate stock, 20-round magazine, 16.25” barrel with flash suppressor, and fitted with a red-dot site. Or maybe an 18.5” barrel Mini-14 Ranch Rifle with a classic wood stock and telescopic site. Better yet: one of each.